The inflatable bouncy castle and wading pool being set up tipped us off. From then came the face-painting station, the frozen-fruit treat vendor and the nice teenager with his horse giving rides around the block to the kids. By afternoon, I couldn't resist and was out meeting neighbors and enjoying the scene. One of my co-workers was there with her family and as she introduced me to every single family within view, it became clear just how close this community is. Soon the tug-of-war games began: fathers vs sons (the fathers won), mothers vs daughters, boys vs. girls (the girls won) etc... At one point, when the young men were losing to their larger, stronger fathers, the teenage boy on his horse grabbed the end of the rope, wrapped it around his saddle horn and tried to bring it home with the strength of his horse, but it just made his saddle slip to the side and the dads won anyway. During each bout, the families cheered and yelled from the sidelines and I laughed like a 10 year old. After enough hands were blistered and people were dragged across the grass, the heavy rope was then used for double-Dutch jump rope, with all hands jumping in again. When was the last time you saw grown adults, some (inexplicably) in costumes playing jump rope? An entire day devoted to just hanging out with the family and doing things that kids like - it was so nice to see. Nobody was checking cell phones; there weren't sullen teenagers sulking in corners with their headphones on; everyone was involved and enthusiastic.
|Neighborhood party: Juarez-style|
After sunset, the dance floor (previously the volleyball and basketball court) came to life with the hired DJ and lights, and the mothers retreated home to change into their best 70s and 80s gear. The fathers, one of whom owns a butcher shop nearby, started up a kettle drum of chopped meat "al pastor" (seasoned pork) and the food began to arrive in waves. The fixins' table held the obligatory salsas, chopped onions and cilantro, reams of tortillas, and another table was covered in pies and cakes and dispensing coolers full of fruity drinks for the kids, with chests of beer for the adults nearby.
A neighbor came around to each woman present and gave her a yellow silk flower corsage for her dress, as now the focus went from being Kid's to Mother's Day. Yes, a week early, but probably because the families are away this weekend and wouldn't have been around to take part. In fact, Mother's Day is such a big deal here that we got Friday off work! Even after dark, the kids still played in the bouncy castle, and there's always a handful of pruny kids shivering in the pool way past dark.
Tim and I chatted with a good group of neighbors, hearing about their jobs and receiving offers to visit various maquilas (factories, the main industry here) where they work. They were a variety of professions, from professors to engineers to lawyers, and in a recent shift in Mexican culture, the mothers are more commonly working now than in decades past. Most spoke English better than we spoke Spanish, and all were extremely welcoming to their city and neighborhood. Even with both parents working, the strength of the family was incredibly evident. One mother told me about a weekly meeting the community has called "jovenes con valores" (youth with values) where a different parent each week gives a talk about a different value. This would be the kind of topic one would hear in a Sunday school classroom, but this is without the religious setting.
It's normal for young Mexicans to live at home through their college years (we saw this in Colombia, too), and nobody would make the "L" on the forehead of a 28 year old still living with his or her parents. (Side note: I think that is the most striking cultural difference I hear in my daily interviews. Most young adults live at home until they are married, and depending on their economic status - sometimes even afterwards.)
We stayed, chatting, watching, laughing and listening to too-loud music until nearly midnight. I went to bed straight away, but I heard that the music lasted for many more hours. I was so happy to have taken part in this afternoon and gotten such a view into family life here. Now I just have to remember even a portion of the names and faces we met and continue getting to know people here to deepen our understanding and appreciation of our new environment. I think we're off to a good start.